Signs of sepsis in the elderly
Sometimes between the winter flu, spring cold and hay fever we opt to ‘soldier on’ instead of burdening our GP with what may turn out to be little more than a runny nose. However, if you are feeling particularly unwell, it’s important to be aware of the early signs of sepsis – and when you should seek help
Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection, which, without quick treatment, can lead to multiple organ failure and death. According to the UK Sepsis Trust, there are around 250,000 cases of sepsis a year in the UK. Often referred to as the ‘silent killer’, sepsis can be particularly devastating for older people whose immune systems are weaker. The threat of sepsis can also be greater for the elderly as the risk for infection is higher when foreign objects are placed in the body – for example, a catheter or breathing tube.
If caught early, sepsis can be controlled by antibiotics. Here are the early symptoms to be aware of, according to the NHS website:
- a high temperature (fever) or
- low body temperature, chills and shivering,
- fast heartbeat
- fast breathing.
It is worth noting that many of the symptoms of sepsis are also associated with meningitis.
If early symptoms of sepsis aren’t recognised then symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock develop. These can include:
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- A change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Severe muscle pain
- Extreme breathlessness
- Less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day
- Cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
- Loss of consciousness.
When to get medical help
Seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111 if you’ve recently had an infection or injury and you have possible early signs of sepsis. Read more about sepsis on the NHS website here.